Drawing with Acrylics, Charcoal, Ink, & Conté

Most of the students attending workshops and art classes rely on the instructor’s list of recommended supplies when deciding what drawing and painting materials to use, so their resulting artwork usually looks quite similar. However, when artists gather to draw from a model or paint on location, their selections of materials and finished pictures can be vastly different. I was reminded of that recently when I joined a drawing group and noticed that the members were using at least a dozen different types of tools with which to record the 10- to 25-minute poses. I’m in the habit of taking note of the exact brands of art supplies artists use because I like passing that information along to readers.

The artist to my left had bags full of Marvy Uchida Deco Color Brilliant Opaque Markers (with single tips) and Pigmented Artist Markers (with double tips) that are sold in the crafts sections of art-supply stores. He used them to draw the full figure on 18”-x-24” sheets of colored paper, often starting with bright colors to create the effect of drawing with neon lights. When he added blue and purple shadow colors next to the bright lines, the drawings really did seem like electrified images of the model.

The artist on my right was going for a completely different, subtle look in his drawings of small sections of the model’s overlapping arms and legs. He drew on black Revere printmaking paper with sharply pointed white Cretacolor Fine Art Pastel pencils (www.savoirfaire.com) and blended the values as if he were actually building up the layers of light illuminating the model’s flesh. The resulting drawings were mysterious and captivating because one had to study them to identify exactly what parts of the figure the artist had drawn during each brief segment.

Two of the artists in the group drew in Strathmore Windpower heavyweight paper-bound-in spiral sketchpads with finely tipped Prismacolor Premier archival markers. Each artist used patterns of hatched and crosshatched lines to defined the model’s pose and gestures. The fact that these small drawings were collected inside 8 1/2”-x-10” sketchpads made them seem precious – a completely different quality than one might ascribe to the neon light drawings or the white drawings on black paper.

The majority of the participants in the drawing session worked with General Pencil charcoal, either in pencil or stick form, and they used a kneaded eraser to pull out highlights or clean up edges of their black-and-white drawings. One woman used General’s willow charcoal that is softer and more easily blended with a stump to establish beautiful soft gray tones.

I hadn’t been part of a drawing group in 15 years, so I went back to the materials I found to be comfortable at that time. I used sticks of sanguine colored Conté crayon to establish the gesture and proportions of the model, roughed in the major shadow shapes with the same tool, and rubbed the areas with my fingers. Finally, I added dark accents with a black Conté crayon. It took me quite a while to get back into that process after so many years of neglect, but I’m glad to say my last drawing of the evening was the best. At least I was encouraged enough to attend the next session.

I’d be interested in knowing what drawing materials you use because I’m sure readers of this blog would benefit from knowing about a wide range of creative options. Be sure to explain why you prefer one drawing tool or another, and mention the surface you draw on if that is important to the performance of those tools.

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M. Stephen Doherty

About M. Stephen Doherty

I've been interested in art since I was a child,  and I was fortunate to be able to take Saturday art classes at the Cincinnati Art Museum from the time I was 9 years old until I finished high school. I majored in art at Knox College and graduated summa *** laude, Phi Beta Kappa (proving artists can use both sides of their brain!).  I then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking from Cornell University; taught art in public schools, a community college, an adult education program, and a college; worked in the marketing department of a company that manufactured screen printing supplies; and was hired to be editor of American Artist in January, 1979.

Thomas S. Buecher introduced me to plein air painting and it immediately became a passion of mine because it got me outdoors and allowed me to continue learning when I traveled to judge art shows, attend conventions, give lectures, and interview artists. Over the years I've exhibited my paintings at Bryant Galleries in New Orleans, Trees Place Gallery on Cape Cod, and in a traveling exhibition titled From Sea to Shining Sea.

I've written 10 books on artists and art techniques and contibuted articles to magazines, websites, and exhibition catalogs. Now as I prepare for semi-retirement, I'm trying to hone my painting skills -- especially those related to painting portraits.

I've been very fortunate to have met thousands of talented artists who have enriched my life with their art, their friendship, and their advice. I am grateful to Jerry Hobbs and Susan Meyer who hired me in 1979, to the talented people who worked with me on the magazines, and to the artists and advertisers who supported American Artist, Watercolor, Workshop, and Drawing  magazines and the related websites.

I've also been blessed with a supportive, talented wife, Sara; a daughter, Clare, who works for an insurance agency; a son, Michael, who is a computer enginner in Austin; a son-in-law, Shawn, who can fix and carry anything; a granddaughter, Amanda, who has me wrapped around her finger; and my mother, Dotty, who has advised and encouraged me from the beginning.

3 thoughts on “Drawing with Acrylics, Charcoal, Ink, & Conté

  1. For drawing I use the Strathmore 400 series paper, kneeded eraser, bullet sharpener and a #4 General pencil with a pencil extender. That way I can get the feel of a long handled brush when drawing.
    Very basic stuff that always does the job…

  2. I enjoy drawing with 9B (staedler) and I also use the Sakura Micron pens (black). or india ink and a nib with a broken tip…make some great lines! And another fun drawing is using the powdered graphite, which I just accumulate from sharpening my pencils with a blade.

  3. I’m pretty much an art materials junkie, loving to try new effects with a different paper or crayon. However, most often I draw with the closest pen and paper to capture an idea without thought to the visual outcome.
    The most fun I had drawing from a model was wiping lights out of a dark ink field and printing it to Arches 88 by hand rolling with a PinPress. To have it read as I drew it I would have had to print the print to make a cognate print…or managed another type offset print method. However, in this session the reverse imagery was satisfactory.